Duo Gazzana

Poulenc, Walton, Dallapiccola, Schnittke, Silvestrov

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None of the five works on this album could be called well known, even though they follow for the most part in a line suggested by Verdi (whose words, "Turn to the past, and that will be progress," provide an epigraph for the booklet notes) and running through Stravinsky. It is to be hoped that the day of self-serving modernism is through and that these pieces, all of them fascinating, will be heard more often. Except for Poulenc's Violin Sonata of 1943 (revised in 1949), which, beautifully wrought though it may be, doesn't quite fit the program, all the music draws on Baroque models, and each piece does so in a different way, and none quite follows Stravinsky's neo-classicism either. Most of the music remains within conventional tonal boundaries, but it is rather more challenging than reassuring. Schnittke's Suite im alten Stil draws its Baroque movement structures out into tense dilemmas that dissolve at their ends, while Valentin Silvestrov's Hommage à J.S.B. breaks Bachian figures (and some direct quotations) into their constituent atoms. The Toccata for violin and piano of William Walton, a criminally neglected work, borrows the spirit of the young Bach's toccatas and their brilliant improvisational spirit, and it is beautifully paired with Luigi Dallapiccola's Tartiniana seconda: Divertimento for violino e pianoforte, which elegantly fuses contrapuntal artifice -- violin virtuosity that lives up to the work's namesake -- and intricate modifications of Baroque tonal language. It's all a real tour de force, and Italy's Duo Gazzana, ably assisted by ECM's engineering team in a Swiss studio, provides the intense focus needed for this music, which proceeds in small details. A wonderful release from ECM.

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